2020 was a strange year by all means. Cricket was affected in entirety in India and for Team India, in particular. But now that it is back on its feet and back on track, 2021 is most likely going to be a very hectic year for the Indian cricket team.
The Indian players have barely landed in India and have gone back to their respective houses after a grueling yet fruitful tour of Australia where they made history and retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. However, soon, they will be on the road again. Be it at home or away, the schedule seems jam-packed and moreover, if the bubble life continues, they could well be set for an extended period where they will be away from home.
Home series against England
On the February 5, Team India will kickstart a four-match Test series against England in Chennai. With Chennai being the bubble for the first two Test matches, the Indian players are likely to assemble in the capital city of Tamil Nadu on the January 27 but they will be allowed to start practice only from February 2.
India have already named an 18-man squad for the first two Test matches. The bubble will then move to Ahmedabad where the newly-built Sardar Patel Stadium which has a capacity of in excess of 110,000 will host the last two Test matches, including one day-night Test match. This brand-new stadium will also host all of the five T20Is before the teams then travel to Pune for the three-match ODI series which will conclude the tour.
India have been a dominant force at home. Since the start of 2011, India have lost a mere three Test matches at home. Only England have won a Test series in India since the start of 2005. And it’s not like the India of past, where it’s trial by spin for the opposition. Ask South Africa or Bangladesh who toured here in 2019. India’s pace attack can run through any side on any pitch. It’s not to say that India’s spinners won’t have a role to play but Virat Kohli and co have been far less dependent on them in the recent past. As far as the batting is concerned, India seem to be in safe hands. Thus, the Virat Kohli-led side might well start the Test series as big favourites.
However, the ODI and T20I series is going to be a tight one. England are the best ODI team in the world and have been on a roll even in T20I cricket. Their talent pool in white-ball cricket is immense and the Eoin Morgan-led side will be a massive threat to the Indian side once again.
It’s just been over a couple of months since the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) came to an end. But the road to the IPL 2021 has already begun. The retention list is out and within a month, the auction for the unsold players will be conducted. And in April, at least for the time being, the IPL looks set to return to India. In case, things don’t work out and go according to plan, UAE is once again the backup option. Thus, April and May are going to be packed with the IPL.
Possible World Test Championship final
With the 2-1 series win in Australia, it has massively boosted India’s chances of making it to the final of the World Test Championship (WTC) which will be played at the Lord’s Cricket Ground. India are currently at the top of the table with a points percentage of 71.1%.
If they win don’t lose more than one game in the four-match series against England at home, the Virat Kohli-led side will be through to the final. And it might be a golden opportunity for India to add some ICC titles to their trophy cabinet which is barren since 2013. India’s pace attack (they have a plethora of options) can run through any side in the world while they have a strong batting line-up as well. In Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, they have two world-class spinners. Irrespective of who they face (Australia or New Zealand) in the WTC final, Virat Kohli and his men have a bright chance of lifting the WTC.
Sri Lanka tour, Zimbabwe tour and Asia Cup, maybe?
Post the IPL, India have a slew of limited overs fixtures lined up. In 2020, India were due to travel to Sri Lanka for three ODIs and as many T20Is. India were supposed to pay Zimbabwe a visit as well but the COVID-19 pandemic did not allow that to happen. In addition to this, the big-ticket Asia Cup was postponed by a year. However, India are mulling to skip the Asia Cup in order to rest the players and also, to host more games in India.
As far as Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe tours are concerned, the selectors might well rest a few key players and test out some new players. There might be quite a few opportunities for the youngsters and fringe players on these two tours.
India’s next World Test Championship cycle kickstarts with a tough away tour to England. They will play five Test matches in the United Kingdom (UK) and no other white-ball cricket. The last time India toured England, they played some fantastic cricket and constantly put England under pressure. However, they lost the series 1-4 but the score line didn’t indicate how closely fought the series was and how tight the games were.
This time, India will be out to conquer England. It is a country where India haven’t won a Test series in the last 14 years. Once again India have the firepower with the ball and in the all-rounders department. The concern will be the batting. India have historically struggled against the moving ball and the ball nips around throughout the day in England. That will be a real challenge for Kohli and co.
ICC T20 World Cup 2021
The ICC T20 World Cup returns in 2021 after a gap of more than five and a half years. India hosted the last event in 2016 and they are set to host it once again in October-November. India haven’t won a T20 World Cup since the inaugural edition in 2007. They have come close and have made it to the knockouts. But someone they fail to get over the line. This time around, they will be playing a lot of T20 cricket in the build up to the T20 World Cup. Hence, they will be hoping to get the combination right.
India will host only a couple of teams apart from England in 2021. South Africa are all set to travel to India to complete their three-match ODI series. But this time around, with the T20 World Cup around the corner and hence, India might want to play three T20Is. The last time South Africa came to India for a T20I series was in 2019 and they squared it up 1-1. This is a South African side in transition and can be dangerous on their day.
Meanwhile, India will also have New Zealand dropping down for a series which might take place on either side of the T20 World Cup 2021. India-New Zealand might play the T20I series before the T20 World Cup and the Test series after the completion of the showpiece event. India are due to face New Zealand in two Test matches and three T20Is.
India lost their last Test series against New Zealand in New Zealand which saw them drop off the top position on the ICC Test Rankings. New Zealand haven’t been great in India but they haven’t had a lot of overseas tours in the recent past. Thus, the Indian tour will be a big test for New Zealand but India will be looking to continue their winning streak.
South Africa tour
The year rounds up with a tough South Africa tour which will comprise of three Test matches and as many T20Is. While India were very successful in the white-ball leg of the tour last time around in 2018, they lost the Test series 1-2. Like England 2018, the score line isn’t a reflection of how this team played. Also, India have never won a Test series in South Africa in the history of their cricket. But with South Africa in transition, this could be the most ideal time for the others to come up.
In short, India have 14 Test matches and a slew of white-ball games lined-up in the next one year. It is going to be a jam-packed year with a lot of cricketing action for them. They have a couple of massive opportunities as well. The T20 World Cup is the biggest challenge this year while the away tours of England and South Africa present them with an opportunity to stamp their authority on world cricket and if they are successful, this Indian team could well be on their way to attaining the status of one of the greatest teams of all time.